Staff at Wokingham Borough Council have been grilled over its ‘chaotic’ school transport service.

New arrangements were made for school transport provision for an estimated 1,250 pupils last year, ready for the 2021/22 academic year.

Now, five months down the line, councillors are scrutinising how it is working in practice.

Staff at the council’s children's service department were grilled over the school transport provision changes, which according to one councillor left parents and children feeling ‘distressed’ as they were only notified about changes a few days prior to school starting.

READ MORE: Wokingham Borough Council agrees to fund free school transport for hundreds of pupils

Speaking about the start of term in September last year, councillor Pauline Helliar-Symons (Conservative, Wokingham Without) said the situation was “absolutely chaotic”.

She said: “One of my residents who has an autistic daughter was not told of the change to her transport arrangements until about two days before term started.

“They had no time to prepare her for that change.

“As a result when the taxi turned up with a different driver, she just refused to get in, and for two or three days refused to go to school and shut herself in her bedroom.

“Had he [her dad] more time to prepare her that would not have happened.”

Daniel Robinson, the council’s SEN (special educational needs) Consultant in part blamed the failings in the arrangements on late submission of forms for free school transport.

Cllr Helliar-Symons remarked: “Rudyard Kipling said there are a hundred thousand reasons but not a single excuse.”

Bracknell News: Councillor Pauline Helliar-Symons (Conservative, Wokingham Without) left, and Daniel Robinson the council's SEN Consultant. Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / YouTubeCouncillor Pauline Helliar-Symons (Conservative, Wokingham Without) left, and Daniel Robinson the council's SEN Consultant. Credit: Wokingham Borough Council / YouTube

She went on to ask why council officers had not called parents and guardians to warn them of the changes.

A report prepared by the council’s children's services department stated that there were difficulties in the new system of buying and acquiring school transport services, which was only introduced between April and June last year.

Mr Robinson said: “Because so many forms were late, everyone’s transport had to be recommissioned when we had enough forms in, which is why people got notifications two days before [term].

“Going forward, the communication that will be going out to parents will be through schools, through annual reviews and through ourselves to make that really clear.

“We did pick up the phone, the SEND service phoned all parents who were late with forms to say ‘this is what we need to come in’.

“Once that support is commissioned the operators will contact parents, especially for the parents who need that preparation around how we prepare every year for different transport providers, different personal assistants and different taxi drivers to be working with families and how we can look at that in terms of support.

“Because parents need to be aware that ‘you will not get the same taxi drivers year on year, and it’s really important that we prepare the children involved for that.”

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The exchanges were made as part of a review into the council’s school transport service being undertaken by the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee held yesterday (Monday, January 10).

As a result of the review, the council’s childrens services department agreed to make changes which included appointing an officer to manage community transport, SEND and school transport admissions to ensure the same issues are not repeated.

Every year, approximately 1,250 pupils in Wokingham Borough use free school transport.

Of those, 900 are mainstram pupils and 350 have SEN and disabilities.